Over the past few weeks here at College Pride Press, we have ranked the top fifteen players in the senior, junior, and sophomore classes for the upcoming 2016-2017 college basketball season. For our fourth and final installment of our class rankings, I was given the task of ranking the top fifteen players in my very own freshman class! This could be one of the best recruiting classes in the history of college basketball, but we will not know for sure until we see these freshman hit the court in October!
To start off, if you have read and or examined my 2017 NBA Draft Board, then this list shouldn’t bring any surprises to you! If you haven’t looked over the Draft Board, that’s okay, you can check it out anytime on our website though the NBA Draft tab! Enough talk, let’s get these rankings on the move!
15. Frank Jackson
PG – Duke – 6’4” 208 lbs
ESPN Rank: 10 247 Rank: 13 ScoutHoops Rank: 18
Standing at 6’4”, Frank Jackson joins a loaded Duke recruiting class full of first round talent in the upcoming 2016 NBA Draft! With Grayson Allen returning for his Junior year at Duke, I do not see Frank Jackson stepping in right away and contributing significant minutes for Duke this season. Can he be an excellent fill-in for when Grayson Allen fouls out or needs a break? Sure! Can he come in off the bench and take control of the game? Absolutely! Frank Jackson is one of the most athletic freshman coming out of this recruiting class and with his explosiveness and ball-handling skills, he will be a tough matchup for any undersized guard that has the task of trying to guard him.
Although Frank Jackson exhibits a strong mental aspect for the game, one down side to the young guard is he is not always the most willing passer. He tends to settle for deep, contested jumpers early in the shot clock, which could cut his minutes short if he continues this trend into the collegiate level. Overall, Jackson can really score and exhibits a deadly jumper at times. His development as a playmaker will ultimately make or break his career as he looks to turn pro!
14. Marques Bolden
C – Duke – 6’11” 250 lbs
ESPN Rank: 16 247 Rank: 15 ScoutHoops Rank: 8
I can promise you, the top 15 does not consist of just Duke players! There recruiting class, already number one at the time, kept on getting better when Marques Bolden announced he was going to become a Blue Devil! From Jahlil Okafor to all three of the Plumlee brothers, Duke has has always been known for having elite big men. Marques is nothing less than elite. Although like most big men, Bolden is not very athletic and struggles shooting free throws. But, one thing you can count on him to do is to get any rebound on any side of the floor! In addition to being a rebounding machine, Bolden shows very nice potential defensively as a highly skilled shot blocker, and even has a smooth mid-range jump shot that should develop nicely in time.
For a player of his caliber and for displaying such little weaknesses, it is hard to imagine that Marques Bolden will not find himself in the starting five come time for March Madness! Bolden’s future is very high and with his talents at both ends of the floor, he could easily help Duke raise yet another banner at Cameron Indoor!
13. Lauri Markkenen
PF/C – Arizona – 7’0” 225 lbs
ESPN Rank: 5-Star 247 Rank: 21 ScoutHoops Rank: 25-26
I know some of you are saying to yourselves right now, “Who is this kid!” That is what a lot of NBA scouts will be saying when they see Lauri Markkenen play for the first time at Arizona this winter! Originally from Finland, Markkenen has spent his past few years playing in European Championships and developing his skills in attempts to reach the NBA level. Last season, he played in the U-20 European-A-Championships where his team finished in 15th place. Although the team struggled, Lauri’s numbers were very impressive. He shot 50.4% from the field and 38.2% from 3-pt range. He averaged 24.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.0 APG, and an impressive 1.3 BPG.
When was the last time you saw a 7ft center in college basketball get a block at one end, sprint down the floor, and bang a three at the opposite end? It is almost unheard of and impossible to think of this, but Markkenen is known overseas for this. He has very nice mobility on defense for a big man and can guard the perimeter as well as the paint. At just 19 years old, Lauri Markkenen already has 4 years of pro and FIBA experience and will look to play a vital role for Sean Miller and the wildcats of Arizona this year!
12. Miles Bridges
SF – Michigan St. – 6’8” 230 lbs
ESPN Rank: 8 247 Rank: 12 ScoutHoops Rank: 14
Without a doubt, the best athlete in the 2016 recruiting class is Miles Bridges. Being a Michigan native, Miles Bridges decided to stay local and play for Tom Izzo’s Spartans instead of going to Kentucky to play under John Calipari. After losing four of their five starters from last season and coming off of a heartbreaking loss to Middle Tennessee St. in the First Round of March Madness, Tom Izzo decided to start clean with a Top-5 freshman recruiting class. Remember Denzel Valentine? Well, you will be watching Valentine 2.0 when Bridges steps out on the court in East Lansing!
Many scouts have acclaimed Bridges for his rare and impressive combination of power, body control, and explosiveness off two feet. He is so agile and quick that his first step and body strength makes him impossible to contain in a straight line drive to the basket. Although he can struggle at times with his jump shot, Miles makes up for it with his quick drives to the basket and ability to create space on the floor by finding the open man. Other than his jumper, Miles Bridges does not appear to have any other visible weaknesses, making him one of the top recruits in his class. As he works with Tom Izzo this offseason and throughout his freshman year, expect to see Miles Bridges high on a lot of draft boards when it comes time in June, 2017 to draft!
11. Malik Monk
PG/SG – Kentucky – 6’4” 185 lb
ESPN Rank: 9 247 Rank: 11 ScoutHoops Rank: 13
Did you see this boy during the McDonald’s All-American Slam Dunk Competition? He can fly! Yet again, John Calipari has put together another top recruiting class in Lexington thanks to Monk and company. As one freshman three point player under Calipari goes to the NBA, another is set to join the wildcats. That player this year is Malik Monk.
As a combo-guard from Arkansas, Monk offers a lot to a young Wildcat squad looking to stay on top of the college basketball world. He is a very talented ball-handler that can easily put up 20+ points a game if not guarded carefully. He can be deadly in transition, but struggles at times passing because he doesn’t like to give up the ball unless he knows he is going to get the assist. I mean, who can blame him? We all want to shoot the ball and only give it up if we are picking up the assist! On the defensive side of the ball, Malik Monk has the tools to become a solid defender due to his quickness and ability to stop the drive. Overall, it should be interesting to see what kind of role Malik Monk plays on a loaded Kentucky squad this season.
10. Jarrett Allen
C – Texas – 6’11” 227 lbs
ESPN Rank: 15 247 Rank: 17 ScoutHoops Rank: 15
Another big man? Is this 2016 recruiting class just full of top centers? Well actually, yes, this class is loaded with talented big men! Jarrett Allen is another one of those big men who fall into the elite category. So, what makes him better than Marques Bolden and Lauri Markkenen? Well, one thing that makes Jarrett Allen special is explosiveness and athleticism as a big man. It is not everyday you see a 6’11” center sprinting up and down the floor on every possession. He is an extremely talented offensive rebounder and can easily contribute towards 4-6 more possessions per game! Allen is a “team first” type player and always looks for his teammates before taking the game into his own hands. Depending on how Shaka Smart approaches his offensive play style this year, having Allen as the focal point could be a blessing or a curse for Texas.
Shaka Smart loves to play fast-paced defense and force other teams to make mistakes. Jarrett Allen will be a key piece in Texas’s defensive scheme because of his shot blocking ability and his ability to run the floor. What has impressed many programs and scouts is that Allen is almost the first person player down the court on most possessions. Allen will be looked upon by Texas to not necessarily play a huge role on offense, but to be able to rebound and push the ball up the court for quick transition points. Jarrett Allen will be without a doubt one of the most intriguing players to watch to see how his game translates from high school to the collegiate level.
9. Jonathan Isaac
SF – Florida St. – 6’11” 205 lbs
ESPN Rank: 12 247 Rank: 8 ScoutHoops Rank: 5
Florida State has a basketball team and not just a football team? Well, yeah, Florida State does in fact have a basketball team, a pretty decent team that are always contenders in the ACC to pull off upsets. After barely missing the NCAA Tournament last season, Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles finished their solid season 20-14. Believe it or not, Florida St. finished 12th in this year’s recruiting season, and a big part of that ranking was because of the commitment of Jonathan Isaac.
After losing Malik Beasley to the NBA Draft this past season, the Seminoles will be looking for a floor commander to pair with Dwayne Bacon outside. Jonathan Isaac, who is being compared to the #2 Overall pick in this year’s past draft, Brandon Ingram, has great size for a combo guard and even put on 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason. He exhibits excellence in defense one-on-one, and has solid shooting mechanics all the way out to the college three-point line. In his high school days and through Team USA camps, Isaac showed flashes of aggression in going to the rim, but excels in ballhandling and mid range pull-ups. One of his weaknesses coming from scouts around the league is that although he is lengthy, he has not improved his upper body strength and does not have a huge frame to be a combo forward moving forward in the league. One of the main things Isaac will have to work on during his time at Florida State is becoming a vocal leader on the floor. If Isaac can unleash his true potential and rise as the leader of this Seminole team, they could wind up be a dangerous play in the ACC and be a team to watch come tournament time. Jonathan Isaac has a lot of potential as a future player in the NBA, and if he can shine at Florida State, his name could be called very early next summer!
8. Edrice “Bam” Adebayo
PF – Kentucky – 6’10” 240 lbs
ESPN Rank: 5 247 Rank: 9 ScoutHoops Rank: 11
Edrice “Bam” Adebayo is one of the more intriguing players in this year’s recruiting class. After losing almost all of their big men, Kentucky was able to land 5-Star Adebayo. He will most likely start for the Wildcats along with the many other freshman John Calipari is bringing in. Bam is a very raw basketball player with a lot of question marks surrounding him. Is he a rebounder? Is he a post-offensive player? Well, nobody will know the answer to any questions until he takes the court for Big Blue Nation.
Based upon evaluations, Adebayo can play above the rim with ease and looks to tear down the rim every time he has the ball inside. He is a physical interior presence that makes an impact on the glass on both ends of the floor. Bam looks to take jump shots, hook shots, dunks; pretty much if you name it, he will take it, besides a three point shot. His game is not very polished at this point and looks a lot like Willie-Cauley Stein when he first entered Calipari’s program. One thing that has NBA scouts keeping a close eye on him is his tremendous frame, athleticism, and motor. Come draft time and after Calipari has all of his kids submit their name for the NBA Draft, I am sure we will see Bam Adebayo stay in the draft and be drafted as a Thon Maker/Cheick Diallo type player who will develop in the NBA with time.
7. De’Aaron Fox
PG – Kentucky – 6’4” 171 lbs
ESPN Rank: 6 247 Rank: 6 ScoutHoops Rank: 6
I hope by now that you have realized exactly why Kentucky has the #1 Overall class yet again. With Tyler Ulis leaving for the NBA, John Calipari does it again and gets De’Aaron Fox, one of the nation’s top high school PGs. Fox has been playing with USA Basketball for the past few years and has seen his skills improve significantly. He is an exceptional passer in space and his ability to create plays in space cannot be matched by any other point guard in this class.
Some analysts and rankings say De’Aaron Fox is the best PG in the 2016 recruiting class because of his defensive skills. He brings a tremendous intensity on the defensive end of the ball. Fox has quick hands and has terrific instincts for swiping the ball and creating turnovers. As a shooter, Fox finds it tough at times to settle for simple shots. His mechanics are not bad, but he struggles in creating space from his defenders. De’Aaron often times will have the ball late in the shot clock and since he is not the best perimeter shooter, he settles for a decent drive down the lane, and a tough floater or contested jump shot. Fox’s size, athleticism, passing, and defense could make him a very intriguing prospect for the NBA. In order to be a starting point guard in the NBA, Fox must improve his skills this year with Kentucky. If lots of rankings have De’Aaron Fox ranked at 6, why is he ranked 7 on my rankings? Well, you can all thank this next prospect who was considered the top prospect overall for a while!
6. Harry Giles
PF – Duke – 6’11” 230 lbs
ESPN Rank: 1 247 Rank: 2 ScoutHoops Rank: 2
Harry Giles, who was the nation’s #1 overall prospect for 2016, was on his way to being the #1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft until he tore his ACL in his right knee and missed his senior year of high school. This was the second time in three years that Giles had injured this knee and a lot of prospects and universities began questioning whether or not he could handle playing in college. Coach K and Duke did not back off and as a result, landed Harry Giles to go along with their impressive 2016 recruiting class.
Putting all things aside, Harry Giles is still a tremendous athlete who is agile, quick, and explosive. He can run the floor with incredible end to end speed and is a super aggressive offensive player. Giles has one of the highest basketball IQs and always looks as if he is one play ahead of everybody else. While mainly playing the post with good footwork, Giles has very impressive body control in the lane and has a great touch around the basket. He can find his way to the free throw line, is a rebounding animal, and has a lightning quick second jump. Harry Giles, although a stud on the offensive end of the ball, does find himself struggling at times from the foul line and beyond. He still needs to develop a perimeter stroke and needs to work on his 59% career free throw percentage. His defensive footwork and positioning could use some work as well. One thing he needs to realize as a post-defender is that it is not always about going for the block. Sometimes, it is better to be patient and contest a shot rather than being aggressive and always trying to swat the ball into the student section. Overall, Giles is a phenomenal prospect who shows potential for every aspect of basketball. There is still a lot of polishing and improvement to be done, but it is scary how good Harry Giles actually is when on the floor.
5. Dennis Smith
PG – N.C. State – 6’2” 180 lbs
ESPN Rank: 5-Star 247 Rank: 5-Star ScoutHoops Rank: 10
Much like Lauri Markkenen, I am sure a lot of you are saying, “Who is Dennis Smith and why is he ranked higher than Harry Giles?” Well, Dennis Smith Jr. sat out his past year in high school because of an ACL injury and graduated early. As a result, he is not found on many rankings because he was not supposed to be in this recruiting class. Dennis Smith, is an exceptional athlete and uses his quickness to get to the rim. He cannot be contained in the open court and creates his own shots whether he is driving left or right. Smith is an extremely impressive passer, when he wants to be, and will be a very good distributor in his career. He contains a lot of potential as a pick and roll threat as a result of his ball-handling, shooting, and floor vision.
Dennis Smith, although not a huge defensive player, can become an excellent defender if he wants to be. He has very quick feet and is very disruptive when he wants to be. The key phrase is, “When he wants to be.” Smith does not always give it his best every possession and is sometimes seen walking down the floor. He has plenty of room to improve in his decision making when his collegiate career begins and looks very wild sometimes on the floor. One thing he will have to work on while at N.C. State is to contain his sporadicness and immaturity while on the floor. His ceiling as a potential NBA prospect is extremely high, but he needs to realize that there is work to be done and that his skills can improve.
4. Lonzo Ball
PG – UCLA – 6’5” 195 lbs
ESPN Rank: 4 247 Rank: 3 ScoutHoops Rank: 7
Maybe the best defensive guard in this recruiting class, Lonzo Ball is being counted on by all UCLA fans to resurrect UCLA from the graveyard of College Basketball. Steve Alford, the coach of the UCLA Bruins, has a big year approaching that could determine whether or not his coaching career at UCLA is over. Over the past three years under Alford, the Bruins have finished 65-40 (62%) which is a decent record, but not good enough for the legendary UCLA basketball program. Steve Alford’s 2016 recruiting class is ranked fifth and has a lot of potential to awaken UCLA basketball from its long slumber, but this all starts with Lonzo Ball, the newest point guard in LA.
Lonzo Ball is not the best shooter, but shoots with range and confidence. What makes Ball one of best point guards, if not the best, is his outstanding vision. He is a creative passer with either hand, delivers the ball from various angles, and has excellent timing when hitting cutters, shooters, and rim runners. He can find any guy at any time on the floor regardless if he has looked at them or not that possession. As a result of his great size for a point guard, Lonzo is very active on defense and has outstanding instincts and anticipation. Ball can find himself struggling at times when it comes to shooting as a result of his very awkward and unorthodox shooting mechanics. Lonzo Ball has a chance to be a special player for the Bruins and an attractive prospect for NBA GMs come time for drafting.
3. Jayson Tatum
SF – Duke – 6’8” 204 lbs
ESPN Rank: 3 247 Rank: 4 ScoutHoops Rank: 4
As we approach the end of the rankings, we also have found our final Duke player on this long list! Brandon Ingram has left for the NBA? No problem Duke nation because Jayson Tatum is here to pick up where Ingram left off! Tatum is a very smooth athlete who is not very explosive, but will wow you with his technique and finesse. He loves to work and operate in the mid-range where he loves to showcase his polished footwork and soft touch. Tatum is very effective at making tough shots off the dribble and creates space with ease. College basketball fans will be watching Duke this year and wondering why Jayson Tatum didn’t make the transition from high school to the NBA because of how polished and professional his game looks. He is a big play player and when the game is on the line, it is Tatum time!
Jayson Tatum is not a very willing passer, which may be adjusted by Coach K and Grayson Allen this season, and loves to play 1v1 in isolation offense. Defensively, he can be very disruptive when locked in, but does not always show the highest intensity. He has the ability to be a real playmaker in the passing lanes and as a shot-blocker, but will need to show better desire to utilize his skills more often. Tatum is without a doubt a tremendous talent who will see his game improve, especially with Coach K shaping him into a top NBA prospect. Along with his other freshman Blue Devils, Jayson Tatum will stop at nothing to bring a title home to Durham.
2. Josh Jackson
SF – Kansas – 6’8” 203 lbs
ESPN Rank: 2 247 Rank: 1 ScoutHoops Rank: 1
With almost identical physical attributes to Tatum, Josh Jackson stands at #2 on my list. Jackson announced his college decision late and nobody was really unsure where he was going to end up. When he announced his commitment to Kansas, Bill Self could finally stop sweating and let out a sigh of relief. Before the signing of Jackson, Kansas only had 2 other commitments and had lots of needs to fill. Josh Jackson can and will fit all of those needs for Kansas! From the offensive side of the ball to the defensive side, Josh Jackson exhibits every trait that a #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft should have.
Jackson is an impressive athlete and is excellent in transition with or without the ball. He has excellent court vision and is by no means a selfish player. Both a leader on and off the court, Jackson leads by example and never shies away from contact with the other team. Jackson loves to be bumped around and feeds off of the emotions of the other team and their fan support. He is a true competitor, but plays with emotions rather than instincts. Josh’s ball handling can be worrisome at times, but is not a major weakness at all. In order for Jackson to maximize his potential and become the best, he will need to continue to improve his skills as a jump shooter and continue putting the team over his own personal gain.
1. Markelle Fultz
PG/SG – Washington – 6’5” 190 lbs
ESPN Rank: 7 247 Rank: 5 ScoutHoops Rank: 3
And finally, my number one overall freshman for the upcoming season is Markelle Fultz. Look, I understand how good of players Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson are, but nothing will convince me that Markelle Fultz is not the best NBA prospect entering his freshman year in college. Fultz may have not played a collegiate game yet but his performance in the U18 FIBA America Tournament labels him as one of the best players in the country this season. In the U18 FIBA Americas Championship Game, Fultz recorded 23 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists in just 21 minutes on the floor! Fultz already has the size, IQ, vision, and athletic ability to be a dominate dual-guard in the NBA. In addition to his stellar offensive play through the U18 tournament, Fultz also recorded a tournament high 3.2 steals per game.
Markelle Fultz can kill you from the three-point line if left open, and if guarded closely, Fultz will blow past you to the rim. There really is no stopping Markelle Fultz, the best you can do is to try and slow him down by fouling. There are not many guards that can rebound, score, and pass with the vision that Fultz has. He truly controls a basketball game when he is on the floor. His confidence is off the charts and really does not have any visible weaknesses. At times, he can struggle with locking somebody down one on one, but rarely gets beat. To reiterate, Fultz has not even played a game yet at the collegiate level, but if I were a GM in the NBA, I would be on the phone trying to get the top pick in the 2017 draft in order to get this kid! At 6’5” and still growing, I would not be shocked at all to hear Markelle Fultz’s name be called by Adam Silver as the #1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft!
That concludes my list of the Top 15 College Basketball Freshman for the 2016-17 season! I hope all you viewers enjoyed reading this list just as much as I loved writing it! As for my final thoughts on this year’s college basketball season, I believe that Duke and Kentucky are going to be two very tough teams to stop, but if there are any teams that can give them a run for their money, it is the teams with players on this list! Be sure to check out our other class rankings for the upcoming season and be sure to check out our college basketball articles as the season progresses!
(Picture from sbnation.com)